The title of this work is marked by the word Questions, in the plural. It takes the place of the expected singular, along with a definite article, associated with that familiar phrase, "the Homeric Question." Today there is no agreement about what the Homeric Question might be. Perhaps the most succinct of many possible formulations is this one: "The Homeric Question is primarily concerned with the composition, authorship, and date of the Iliad and the Odyssey."1 Not that any one way of formulating the question in the past was ever really sufficient. Who was Homer? When and where did Homer live? Was there a Homer? Is there one author of the Iliad and Odyssey, or are there different authors for each? Is there a succession of authors or even of redactors for each? Is there for that matter a unitary Iliad, a unitary Odyssey?

I choose Homeric Questions as the title of this book both because I am convinced that the reality of the Homeric poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, cannot possibly be comprehended through any one Question and also because a plurality of questions can better recover the spirit of the Greek word ζήτημα, meaning the kind of intellectual 'question' that engages opposing viewpoints. In Plato's usage, ζήτημα refers to a question or inquiry of a philosophical nature. This is the word used in the title of Porphyry's Homeric Questions, a work that continues in a tradition that can be traced as far back as Aristotle. As Rudolf Pfeiffer writes, "probably over a long period of time Aristotle had drawn up for his lectures a list of 'difficulties' [ἀπορήματα or προβλήματα] of interpretation in Homer with their respective 'solutions' [λύσεις]; this custom of ζητήματα προβάλλειν may have prospered at the symposia of intellectual circles."2

A number of quotations from Aristotle's work are preserved, mostly in Porphyry's Homeric Questions.3 In one of these, Aristotle is disputing the assertion, as found in Plato's Rebublic (319b)Republic (319b), that it cannot be true that Achilles dragged the corpse of Hektor around the tomb of Patroklos; Aristotle contradicts this assertion by referring to a Thessalian custom, still prevalent, he says, in his own time, of dragging the corpses of murderers around the tombs of those they had murdered (F 166 Rose).4 As Pfeiffer goes on to say, "it is an example of the way [Aristotle] used the stupendous treasures of his collections for the correct interpretation of the epic poet against less learned predecessors who had raised subjective moral arguments without being aware of historical facts."5 Among the historical facts used by Aristotle is diction, λέξις.6 For my own approach to Homeric Questions, diction is the primary empirical given.

We will return to the topic of diction presently. For now let us continue with the account by Pfeiffer:

Although certain circles of the Alexandrine Museum seem to have adopted this 'method' of ζητήματα, which amused Ptolemaic kings and Roman emperors, as it had amused Athenian symposiasts, the great and serious grammarians disliked it as a more or less frivolous game... It was mainly continued by the philosophic schools, Peripatetics, Stoics, Neoplatonists, and by amateurs, until Porphyry (who died about 305 C.E., ) arranged his final collection of Ὁμήρικα ζητήματα in the grand style, in which he very probably still used Aristotle's original work.7
The title Homeric Questions reaffirms the original Aristotelian seriousness of Ὁμήρικα ζητήματα, avoiding the accretive implications of frivolity. To this extent it matches the seriousness of scholarship in the period of the Renaissance and thereafter concerning the Homeric Question. But my title also affirms the need to pose the question in such a way that it will not presuppose the necessity of any single answer or solution, λύσις. And even if a unified answer were to be achieved in the long run, the result is likely to be a blend achieved from a plurality of different voices, not the singular strain of a monotone edict emanating from the unquestioned authority of accepted scholarship to which some would assign the title of philology.

For purposes of my argument, we need to turn back to earlier understandings of the very idea of philology. Let us consider for example the report of Suetonius that Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who succeeded the scholar-poet Apollonius of Rhodes as head of the Library of Alexandria, was the first scholar to formalize the term φιλόλογος in referring to his identity as a scholar, and that in so doing he was drawing attention to a doctrina that is multiplex variaque, a course of studies that is many-sided and composed of many different elements.8

The era of the great Library of Alexandria reflects a link between our new world of philology and the old world of the actual words that are studied in philology, like the ipsissima verba credited to Homer. Those who presided over the words, as texts, were the Muses: the very name of the Library of Alexandria was after all the Museum, the place of the Muses, and its head was officially a priest of the Muses, nominated by the king himself.9 These Muses of the text had once been the Muses of performance.

The members of the Museum, which was part of the royal compound, have been described as follows by Pfeiffer:

They had a carefree life: free meals, high salaries, no taxes to pay, very pleasant surroundings, good lodgings and servants. There was plenty of opportunity for quarrelling with each other.10
One might say that the Museum itself was a formalization of nostalgia for the glory days when the Muses supposedly inspired the competitive performance of a poet. The importance of performance as the realization of the poetic art will become clear as the discussion proceeds.

Another head of the Alexandrian Library, Aristarchus of Samothrace, perhaps the most accomplished philologist of the Hellenistic era, was described by Panaetius of Rhodes, a leading figure among the Stoics, as a μάντις 'seer' when it came to understanding the words of poetry (Athenaeus 634c).11 In this concept of the seer we see again the nostalgia of philology for the Muses of inspired performance.

The beginnings of a split between philology and performance-a split that had led to this nostalgia, ongoing into our own time-are evident in an account of Herodotus which I have examined at length elsewhere, concerning two ominous disasters that befell the island of Chios, a reputed birthplace of Homer.12 In the earliest attested mention of schools in ancient Greece, Herodotus 6.27.2, the spotlight centers on an incident that occurred on the island of Chios around 496 B.C.E., , where a roof collapsed on a group of 120 boys as they were being taught γράμματα 'letters'; only one boy survived. This disaster is explicitly described by Herodotus as an omen presaging the overall political disaster that was about to befall the whole community of Chios in the wake of the Ionian Revolt against the Persians (6.27.1), namely, the attack by Histiaios (6.26.1-2) and then the atrocities resulting from the occupation of the island by the Persians (6.31-32).

The disaster that befell the schoolboys at Chios is directly coupled by the narrative of Herodotus with another disaster, likewise presaging the overall political disaster about to befall all of Chios: at about the same time that the roof caved in on the boys studying their γράμματα 'letters' in school (again, 6.27.2), a χορός 'chorus' of 100 young men from Chios, officially sent to Delphi for a performance at a festival there, fell victim to a plague that killed 98 of them. Only two of the boys returned alive to Chios (ibid.).

In this account by Herodotus, then, we see two symmetrical disasters befalling the poetic traditions of a community, presaging a general political disaster befalling the community as a whole: first to be mentioned are the old-fashioned and e/litist oral traditions of the chorus, to be followed by the newer and even more e/litist written traditions of the school. The differentiation between the older and newer traditions, as we see it played out in the narrative of Herodotus, can be viewed as the beginnings of the crisis of philology, ongoing in our own time.13

1 Davison 1963.234.

2 Pfeiffer 1968.69.

3 Hintenlang 1961; Pfeiffer 1968.69.

4 Hintenlang 1961.22-23; Pfeiffer 1968.69.

5 Pfeiffer 1968.70.

6 See ibid.

7 Pfeiffer 1968.70-71, with reference to Lehrs 1882.206.

8 Suetonius De grammaticis et rhetoribus c. 10 (Pfeiffer 1968.158 n.8); see the definitive edition of Kaster 1995.

9 Testimonia collected by Pfeiffer 1968.96.

10 Ibid., 97.

11 Ibid., 232.

12 N 1990c, restating an earlier discussion in N 1990a.406-413. On Chios as birthplace of Homer: Acusilaus FGH 2 F 2.

13 N 1990c. See especially p. 40 on Sophocles as a composer and performer.

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